Researchers from the American National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have created the most highly sensitive camera to date, the pixels of which are sensors that can capture single photons of light. The matrix of this camera contains more than a thousand pixels and is intended for installation on next-generation space telescopes, where it will be used to search for chemical signs of life on other planets, to search for the elusive dark matter, which accounts for most of the entire matter of the Universe.
Each pixel of the new one is a nanoconductor made of tungsten and silicon, 3.5 millimeters long, 180 nanometers wide and 3 nanometers thick. These nanoconductors are located on a silicon substrate, and wire connections from superconducting niobium connect them to the “outside world”. Such a structure of camera pixels provides the best indicators of speed, efficiency and color range today. Similar sensors have already been used by NIST experts to study the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, which Albert Einstein called “phantom action at a distance.”
In addition, a new type of photosensitive sensors has a very low level of intrinsic noise, which eliminates the possibility of false alarms and data distortion. This feature is extremely important for the search for dark matter and space astronomy, where it is necessary to capture single photons with the lowest energy, photons located at the farthest end of the infrared range.
The NIST camera is small in size, its crystal is a square with a side of 1.6 millimeters, on which there are 1024 sensors in the form of a 32 by 32 pixel matrix. With such a dense arrangement of pixels, NIST researchers first encountered the problem of overheating the camera crystal, but later, by expanding the electrical conductors of the information reading circuits, this problem was successfully solved.
Now researchers have already achieved that 99.5% of fully operational sensors are obtained at the exit from the production technological line. The next steps that scientists intend to take will be to increase the efficiency of pixel sensors in order to increase their sensitivity in the boundary ranges. And only after that, the researchers plan to start creating large versions of cameras, the number of pixels in which will be in the millions.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the parameters of the new camera were measured at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and at the California Institute of Technology. After all, only there is all the electronics necessary for such measurements, which is now used for the development and implementation of optical communication systems in deep space.